Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $23
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

It's certainly easy to get caught up in all the limited releases, barrel picks and fancy whiskeys sitting on the shelves these days, without consideration for the standards. I feel I've long ignored some of the basic ryes out there and I intend to remedy that situation.

So, I started off with Jim Beam Rye. Right or wrong, I've always used white label as my kind of baseline, the bourbon against which I compare everything else, serving as my standard "C" grade bourbon. So it only seems right that at some point I give the rye a try.

Admittedly, I went into this expecting something average, and it proved to be much more than average. The nose gave off a light cinnamon spice and minimal alcohol. It wasn't strong, though, and I had to hunt for the flavors.

Luckily that wasn't the case with the palate. The flavor of this rye is actually quite good. I got the cinnamon from the nose that carried from the beginning to the end, providing a decently long and spicy finish. It was also sweetened by some vanilla as well as a surprising light butterscotch note. These flavors and the sweetness complemented the lingering spice very well.

Despite it being watery in texture, it was still full of flavor and the flavor stuck around for quite a while, with a decent coating of the mouth, especially given the watery texture and low proof.

Interestingly, after leaving the bottle open for a couple weeks, it developed a very distinct pine flavor. It wasn't strong, but it was certainly noticeable. The pine flavor played well with the cinnamon, but seemed to be at odds a bit with the butterscotch.

This also came across as a younger rye. It was a bit jagged and rough around the edges, with sharp notes and, despite the low proof, some burn. However, for the price, it's a good rye and one I wouldn't hesitate to buy again. It certainly exceeded my expectations and was a nice surprise.

Grade: B-

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hancock's President's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 88.9 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

Let me just start this out by saying that I love Buffalo Trace's mashbill #2. It seems to be my ideal flavor profile, and as a result I find myself frequently favoring the Blanton's, Rock Hill Farms and Elmer T. Lee's of the world. Hancock's President's Reserve, however, seems to be the red-headed stepchild of the mashbill #2 line. This lower proof version is not advertised on the Buffalo Trace Distillery website (see for yourself), and it seems to hit the shelves with the same limited frequency as Elmer T. Lee and Rock Hill Farms.

That being said, it is nonetheless without question a mashbill #2 bourbon. The nose is caramel and light cinnamon spice. It also has a hint of burnt orange and maple, giving it a nice, rich aroma.

Likewise, the first sip is full of that vanilla and caramel up front that I've become accustomed to with these sweeter yet slightly spicy bourbons. The back end has that nice cinnamon tingle that sticks at the back of your throat for a while.

Compared to the others in this line, this is, as expected, a bit watery in texture. That being said, I didn't feel as though it lost any boldness in flavor. It still has all its sweet and spicy character, just with minimal to no burn.

In later pours, the profile changed slightly, but quite frankly for the better. It seemed to develop a very tasty orange note, which I had noticed on the nose but up to that point missed on the palate. That orange seemed to mingle with the caramel and a sweet brown sugar to add some nice complexity to an otherwise thinly-textured bourbon.

The back end also developed an almond flavor that hung around with the cinnamon spice at the back end of each sip I took, leaving behind some much-welcome flavor to go along with the spice.

I'm a big fan of this as far as low proof bourbons go. Many refer to Basil Hayden's as a good bourbon to give to someone to try who is not familiar with bourbon. Availability aside, this to me would be a far better option. It's just not practical when it's not readily available. Again, my bias here is freely admitted, but for a lower proof bourbon, I found this to be excellent!!

A-

Monday, November 27, 2017

High West Binny's Private Selection A Midwinter Night's Dram Finished American Prairie Bourbon

VITALS:
- $35
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Utah

It's been a while since I've run out in search of a particular bourbon. But, when I got the e-mail that Binny's got in some new barrel select whiskeys from High West, and that one of them was the American Prairie Bourbon finished in Midwinter Night's Dram barrels, I knew I had to get my hands on one. It didn't hurt that they were $5 off either.

My hope was that taking a bourbon I already enjoy and finishing it in barrels that once held a finished whiskey that I love (A Midwinter Night's Dram), would result in a bourbon with just a subtle port finish and hopefully a bit of the rye spice as well.

The nose lived up to expectations. It's soft and light, with notes of vanilla and cereal grain, kind of like frosted flakes.  It also had the scent of dark fruits, like cherry and plum, transferred from the port wine barrels. The port influence was not overpowering, though, and I was encouraged by the traditional notes that came through on the nose, despite the finish.

On the palate, as expected, the port influence was more subtle than most wine barrel finished whiskeys. To me this was a good thing. It allowed the vanilla and caramel notes of the bourbon to come through without being overpowered by the raspberry and dark cherry flavors from the port. The "second fill" nature of this bourbon found a good balance of the right amount of the port finish to complement and not overpower.

Unfortunately, the flavors from the rye that previously filled the barrel did not seem to carry through to the bourbon. The spiciness I wanted just wasn't there.

The finish left a nice, lingering vanilla and raspberry flavor that was absolutely delicious. At first it wasn't noticeable, but on later pours it was all I noticed, and had me reaching for the next pour. I enjoyed it so much that I finished the second half of the bottle in about a third of the time it took me to finish the first half.

Overall, this is a soft, easy-drinking finished bourbon that seemed to find a great balance of port influence, simply by reusing the barrels that once housed what has become High West's most sought after product. Part marketing gimmick and part great idea turned out a pretty good whiskey!

Grade: B/B+

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Eagle Rare Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Barrel No. 196 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 196
- Region: Kentucky

Eagle Rare has always held a special place in my heart. It is, after all, the bourbon that got me into bourbon. It's the bourbon that told me maybe I need to expand my horizons and try something other than Scotch. It's the bourbon that started this "journey."

And when I found a new store in Chicago, not too far from my office, a store with multiple shelves of store picks of all kinds, there was no way I was leaving there without one of their Eagle Rare store picks. Interestingly, they had three to choose from, so I made my pick based on the tasting notes. This particular barrel was described as having strawberry notes. I was skeptical, having never tasted anything like strawberry in my bourbon before, but I was willing to give it a chance.

I got home and pretty much cracked this one open right away. The nose is vanilla and cinnamon, somewhat traditional and what I've come to expect from Eagle Rare. It also had a light and bright fruitiness to it, kind of like raspberry, or even . . . strawberry!

And the palate? Strawberries! Seriously! The notes weren't lying! Of course, there was a nice amount of vanilla, which balanced well with the traditional rye spice that would linger on the back end, tickling the throat and begging for the next pour.

But I just could not get past the strawberries. I immediately went for my next sip, and even then my next pour, each time trying not to taste the strawberries, if for no other reason than to justify my skepticism, but it was there and unavoidable.

It was a soft strawberry flavor, like dried strawberries, rather than syrupy or imitation strawberry. And while strawberry isn't a traditional or typical flavor in bourbon, this works, and it works very well!! It offers the perfect sweetness to complement the spicy cinnamon finish, and it of course is amazing with the underlying vanilla tones throughout that hearken back to what a bourbon should be, just in this case with a little bit more.

This is one of the best bourbons I have ever tried! Seriously, frickin' strawberries! I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't taste it myself! I have never enjoyed a bourbon so much that I felt compelled to go back and grab another just to have in reserve. I usually look to buy things I haven't had before, otherwise I'd have nothing to write about. But as a testament to just how much I loved this bourbon, in this instance I made it a point to grab a back-up, so that I'd have no reason to refrain from drinking this one.

Grade: A+

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Virginia Limited Edition Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 90 Proof
- 9 years, 9 months
- Region: Virginia
- 375 ml

This is one of the weirdest ideas/experiments I've seen yet. A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, VA has been releasing limited releases, and last year they released a "Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon." I had never seen one on the shelf until recently, so I never had reason to question it as anything other than being kind of an odd finish.

When I did finally come across one, my curiosity got the best of me, and I just had to wonder, what exactly does it mean to be "gingerbread cocoa finished"? It's not exactly like port finished bourbons, where the product typically requires use of a barrel, thus allowing for the finishing of the bourbon in said barrel. I haven't exactly seen barrels of cocoa or gingerbread, and I'm pretty certain that's not a thing.

So what is this whiskey exactly? What isn't immediately apparent from the label is that this whiskey was, in fact, finished in barrels. These barrels originated in the A. Smith Bowman distillery and originally held bourbon. After they were emptied, Hardywood Park Brewery in Virginia got their hands on the barrels and used them to age two types of beer: their Gingerbread Stout and their Foolery Imperial Milk Stout (both of which sound delicious!).  Hence the gingerbread and cocoa.  After the barrels were done being used for aging the beer, they made their way back to A. Smith Bowman, where they were used to then finish this particular limited release whiskey. So, with all that out of the way, how does it taste?

Before we get to that, the gingerbread is very noticeable on the nose. I also got some corn as well as a light cinnamon. Beyond that, it didn't give of much that made it seem too far afield from traditional bourbon. I did kind of expect a boozy, beery smell that simply wasn't there.

And it didn't have any boozy, beer flavor either. Rather, the palate was loaded with unsweetened cocoa. It did not have the chocolate notes that I kind of expected, but rather the baking cocoa flavor. Interestingly, I did not get the gingerbread on the palate that I got on the nose, which was a bit surprising.

Beyond the influence of the finish, it comes across as a higher rye bourbon, somewhat spicy on the back end yet with a decent vanilla finish. However, it just did not have any sort of "pop" to it. It has an almost creamy texture to it, which seemed to almost mute the flavor. While the cocoa and vanilla and cinnamon notes were there, they were soft and undefined.

Interestingly, and perhaps this is where the beer influence came in, it had a weird finish that came through almost as an afterthought. It was as though when I stopped paying attention to the finish, an odd, sour/musty note came through that I couldn't really place but which certainly gave me pause. I wish I could describe it better, but it reminded me of when you get a sour piece of lettuce in your salad (real relatable, I know).

This was a fun experiment, and I'm glad I got to try it. However, I don't see this as something I'd seek out again. I would like to give those barrel-aged beers a try, though!

Grade: B-

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Jefferson's Grand Selection Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes Cask Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $130
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

Jefferson's has recently put out a couple of incredibly fancy-looking, and incredibly pricy bottles of bourbon finished in highly acclaimed or rated ex-wine casks. In addition to this Sauternes finish, they also shortly thereafter released a bourbon finished in ex-Pinchon Baron casks.

I'll admit, the fancy packaging absolutely drew me in. I also know that I am prone to really liking wine-barrel finished bourbons. Though some are better than others, certainly, for the most part I haven't found one I didn't enjoy. So, despite the hefty price tag, I nonetheless wanted to give this a try. After all, Jefferson's, although they do like to experiment, have also become a brand that I trust and am willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

The nose, as expected, is fruity and sweet. The wine notes are immediately prevalent and pungent, noticeable from a few feet away as soon as I popped the cork. They gave off notes of strawberry and dark cherry, but also the sweetness of honey. Much of this seemed to mask the traditional bourbon notes on the nose, however.

The palate is likewise sweet and fruity. It's heavy on the raspberry notes, mixed with a whole bunch of vanilla bean. It reminded me of those vanilla ice cream cups that have the raspberry swirl in them. It's that sweet and that noticeable.

In fact, the bourbon notes were very much buried in those first few pours. I really struggled to find them, and, though I really wanted to enjoy it, I just found it hard to do so.

However, as this bottle was allowed to sit for a while after being opened, it did seem to transform. The sweetness died down a bit, and some of the traditional bourbon notes came through. It reminded me more now of those raspberry fruit strips that you can get a Trader Joe's or Whole Foods—the kinds with no artificial sweeteners in them. It was like unsweetened raspberry jelly.

While it was good and had solid influence from the wine, it still just wasn't what I look for in a wine-finished bourbon. The influence was almost too heavy on this one for me. It just wasn't what I was hoping for. That being said, I've got bourbon-loving friends that I know would absolutely love this product, and this is just one of those that whether it's loved or not is going to completely depend on the individual drinker.

Grade: B-

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon 2017 Batch No. B517

VITALS:
- $65
- 124.2 Proof
- 12 Years
- Region: Kentucky

Disclaimer: I love Elijah Craig Barrel Proof! This is the one bourbon that my wife know to grab when she sees it in a store. In fact, she stocked me up on some of the private releases, to the point that I've still got partial bottles sitting bot at home and at my office. So, please understand my bias going into this review.

Though I did not come across the first release in 2017, I certainly jumped all over the second release once I found it, and I opened it up right away. This one comes in at a lower proof than many past offerings, but it is still a robust 128 proof. That being said, the nose was much softer than expected. It was full of pleasant vanilla and caramel mixed with a baked apple smell that reminds me of the kind of smells you associate with Thanksgiving. Immediately I was excited to take that first sip.

The initial sip was sweeter than expected but with a light burn. It was very caramel and molasses forward, lending a sort of heaviness to that sweetness, the kind that coats the mouth and sticks around for a while.

There was also a bit of dryness to it, typical of longer-aged witnesses, but again, even that seemed to be quickly overpowered by the molasses flavor that seemed to dominate. That, however, was just fine by me, as though I do enjoy a light oakiness, more than that is too much for me, so this was kind of just the right amount.

The finish was probably my favorite part, though, as that caramel and molasses flavor that seemed to dominate the palate gave way to a heavy influence of vanilla on the back end that stuck around forever! You'd think this was a vanilla bomb from start to finish with as much as the vanilla dominated the finish, but that's not the case. It just seemed to completely change from front to back, all within the same sip.

In later pours, that heavy molasses flavor seemed to lighten up a bit (which is good—it was way to serious!), allowing more traditional flavors to come through, and the palate was more balanced with notes of vanilla and toffee, and even a bit of root beer coming through. The finish, nonetheless, remained vanilla heavy.

It's interesting how this bourbon changed. Though it was interesting to start, it was never bad, because even though the caramel and molasses seemed to dominate at first, it worked because it held back those dry oak notes, and then gave way to the long vanilla finish. It then opened up and turned into an absolutely delicious, complex and yet well-balanced bourbon, and I thoroughly enjoyed what it became. 

And now I get to track down the third release this year!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $24
- 100 Proof
- NAS (4 Years)
- Region: Kentucky

Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond is one of those bourbons that I've always felt I should have at least tried once, but never had. Not that it was really tearing at me, but I finally made it a point to grab this lower shelf bourbon so that, at the very least, I could remove that nagging need to be able to say that I've had it before.

The nose is somewhat traditional, with a light vanilla scent mixing with a light cinnamon spice. It also had a bit of oak to the nose, which was unexpected given its young age.

When I took my first sip it came across as pretty watery in texture. It has the viscosity of Beam white label, and, unfortunately, it also has the complexity of Beam White Label or lack thereof (Note: I have nothing against Beam White Label--it's just my measuring stick for what I'd consider your basic bourbon).

On the first pour I noticed that this bourbon lacks sweetness as well, and come across as kind of boring. While the nose had the traditional bourbon notes to it, the flavor seemed more reminiscent of an American Whiskey, a whiskey that has a mashbill that isn't quite made up of the 51% corn needed to be called a bourbon.

As the bottle had a chance to open up (I gave it a good two weeks), it did eventually develop a light sweetness and the corn seemed to come through a bit more. I'm assuming the two went hand-in-hand here. It was like the flavor of corn flakes with a small amount of sugar sprinkled over them, like the cereal I used to have to eat at my grandma's house (though I'd sneakily dump a pound of sugar in my bowl when my grandma wasn't looking).

Towards the back end the cinnamon from the cinnamon from the nose came through, adding a nice spice to that light sweetness. While I did not get any wood on the palate like I got on the nose, I did get a kind of Dr. Pepper flavor that lingered for quite a while, and at times that flavor seemed to turn into almost a black licorice flavor on the palate.

It seemed as if this bottle continued to get slightly better with each pour, as I found it boring and lacking in flavor to start, and at the end it was sweet and enjoyable. It also developed some complexity that I never expected at the start, introducing flavors toward the end of the bottle that were nowhere to be found at the start.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A.D. Laws Secale Straight Rye Whiskey Bottled In Bond

VITALS:
- $80
- 100 Proof
- 4 Years
- Region: Colorado

A.D. Laws is a distillery out of Colorado that seems to have burst onto the bourbon and rye scene. Despite that it's relatively new to our shelves here in Illinois, they are nonetheless stocking those shelves with a variety of different bourbons and ryes, including bottled-in-bond offerings such as this Secale Straight Rye.

Admittedly, I picked up this bottle having no clue what "secale" rye is, and I had to look it up when I got home. It's apparently a type of cultivated wild rye, offering a different flavor than the standard, domesticated ryes typically used for whiskey. However, in this case, it appears to be a Colorado-sourced rye that they use, keeping it local (per the label on the back of the bottle).

The mashbill is an interesting mix of 47.5% raw rye, 47.5% malted rye, and 5% malted barley. This, too, I had to look up after my first sip, because I thought I was getting a LOT more malted barley than just the 5%, both on the nose and on the palate.

The nose is sweet and very malty. It has a very distinct butterscotch scent that is very inviting, but it also has a little bit of bite, a light peppery spice to it that seems to really contrast with that sweet butterscotch note.

The flavor is really unique, and far from any other rye I've had before. It's very much like a 50/50 blend of Scotch and rye. There is a very strong and smokey malted barley flavor, along with the butterscotch flavor that I commonly associate with a Speyside single malt.

It is incredibly sweet throughout, almost molasses like. It still has those brown sugar and cinnamon spices that I get out of typical ryes, but that cinnamon blended with the butterscotch all comes together with almost a rum cask finish to it. While many people enjoy rum cask finished whiskeys and might enjoy that characteristic in this one, I am not one of them.

The finish threw me off a bit with a light mintiness to it that just did not seem to fit in with anything else that was going on, and that mint note seemed to linger forever, to the point where I was taking my next sip just to make it go away.

All in all this was a unique pour with lots going on, but it all just did not seem to work together for me. Certain characteristics on their own were good and tasty, but altogether, it just came across as a bit weird. Nothing about it was inviting me back for more, and I found myself finishing this bottle off more out of desire to get through the bottle to write the review than out of enjoyment of the whiskey.

Grade: C+

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blanton's Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Barrel No. 006 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $70
- 93 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 006, Warehouse C (though the paper label states that it's
- Region: Kentucky

I had only heard about Blanton's store picks, or better yet, read about them on social media and in online forums. To me they had always been nothing more than mythical creatures. But one day I walked into Warehouse Liquors in Chicago, having heard that it's a great source of private select bottlings, and right there at eye level staring back at me was this mythical beast, begging to come home with me. So home it came.

I will say up front, that having finished this bottle and being part way through a Warehouse Liquors private selection of Eagle Rare, these people know what they are doing! I have definitely found a go-to source for private bottlings that I can trust sight unseen (flavor untasted?)!

Right away I fell in love with the nose on this. It was a sweet amaretto flavor, kind of like almond cookies, along with cinnamon and some light wood notes that made for a nice sweet and savory scent. It was a delicious, pungent smell that you could notice from even a couple feet away.

With the first sip, I immediately noticed that this is a sweeter version of Blanton's than what I've had before, but it's a light sweetness, as opposed to a heavy, in your face sweetness. It wasn't sugary, but rather had that sweetness that you get from confectioner's sugar when it's sprinkled on a funnel cake, for example.

The bourbon is delicious and smooth, as would be expected from any Blanton's product.  The traditional vanilla and caramel are certainly prevalent, along with a nice amaretto tang that carried over from the nose. The sweet caramel and amaretto notes really seemed to linger on the finish for quite some time, often urging me to go in for that next sip or, if I was at the end of my pour, for the next glass.

I also found that it had a light and subtle smokiness to it. It wasn't overt, and at times it seemed to almost disappear, but then a few sips later I'd notice it again. This was a complex, and yet simple bourbon, as though it didn't try hard to be special, yet it nonetheless managed to compel me to go back for pour after pour, as opposed to having something else from my stash on a particular night.  Warehouse Liquors nailed this one, and I hope they continue getting these mythical beasts into their shop!

Grade: A

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Binny's Private Select Barrel #4521 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- 12 1/2 years
- Region: Kentucky

I feel like I start off every review of a Knob Creek Private Select the same way, touting the great value and the fact that for the price, you're guaranteed at the least a very good pour, if not a great pour. Well, here I am doing it again, because these Private Selects continue to not disappoint, no matter which one I grab.

Binny's got in a bunch of barrels at once, and this was among the older of them, the oldest being a 13 1/2 year old. It didn't come recommended to me as with the last one, but how wrong could I really go hear?

The nose is heavy, full of burn but also full of flavor. It was pungent cinnamon bread on the nose. I'd say cinnamon roll, but it didn't seem to have that sweetness. Rather, it was cinnamon and grain, leading to a very inviting nose. After being open a bit, the nose also developed a dark cherry scent that seemed to fit right in with the strong cinnamon and bread notes.

The first sip I tried was an absolute cinnamon bomb, accompanied only by a heavy alcohol burn, which seemed to dissipate pretty quickly. There was also a significant amount of vanilla present, but it was dominated by the heavy dose of cinnamon on the tongue.

After being open for a bit, it sweetened up significantly. Where before it was primarily cinnamon and unsweetened vanilla, it added a welcome bit of a honey flavor that went perfectly with the cereal and bread notes that were present throughout, though, much like the vanilla, were also dominated by the cinnamon notes.

Towards the last few pours, the honey notes seemed to get stronger, as though they were fighting to compete with the cinnamon. Cinnamon and honey is not a combination that I would seek or would ever have even thought of as a good combination, but it certainly worked. This bottle carried heavy heat throughout, but not to the point where it turned me off. Rather, it helped with the complexity and the strong flavors.

Based on the age of the bourbon and the nose, I had half expected to get some significant wood notes, but they were noticeably absent throughout. As someone who doesn't like anything more than just a little dry woodiness, this was a plus.

All in all, this was a very good pour. While it didn't reach that greatness that some Private Selects I've had in the past have reached, it still didn't disappoint, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end!

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Widow Jane 10 Year Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $70
- 91 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #1398
- Region: Kentucky (bottled in New York)

Widow Jane was one of those bourbons I had only read about on social media and message boards. I knew very little other than that it existed and I had never seen it on the shelves in the Chicago area, at least until a few months ago when Binny's suddenly had three of their products sitting on the shelves.

Although a bit pricey, one of the options on the shelf was this 10 year old single barrel bourbon, and, with those qualities, I was certainly willing to give it a chance.

From what I understand, Widow Jane sources its bourbon from Kentucky, though the exact distiller is kept as something of a mystery. As they advertise, they then use "pure limestone mineral water from the Widow Jane Mine - Rosendale, NY" to proof the whiskey down. Not much more information than that is provided on the bottle's label.  In any event, it's at least worth a try to find out what difference, if any, New York limestone water can make to a 10 year Kentucky bourbon.

The nose is pleasant but soft, giving off some brown sugar and butter notes. It seems sweet, but not too sweet, and it certainly doesn't come across as pungent. There is almost no alcohol on the nose, which is good given the proof.

My initial impressions of this bourbon on the first pour or two was that it was kind of bland. Sure, it was easy to drink, but the flavors weren't very strong. What flavors were there were light cinnamon and brown sugar, with vanilla undertones. The flavor that I could find was very tasty, and there was something else that I just couldn't place my finger on.

After having the bottle open for a few weeks, this whiskey really opened up and all of a sudden seemed bursting with flavor. It sweetened up a bit, with a honey sweetness that seemed to also bring out the cinnamon and brown sugar notes. There was also a new and delicious chocolate now, and I was also able to figure out that the flavor I couldn't quite place was a kind of a plum flavor that I really enjoyed.

As I made my way through the last few pours, I also got a bit of bitterness, but a good kind of bitterness, the kind that you'd associate with a mix of coffee and dark chocolate. Again, these flavors seemed to complement the cinnamon and brown sugar that was found throughout.

At first I thought this bourbon was going to disappoint me. That first pour really was unimpressive. However, after letting it open up, even for just a short amount of time, I found myself really enjoying it! It developed a complexity that I didn't expect, and the varietal flavors all really worked well with one another to make for a very well-rounded bourbon.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ezra B Single Barrel 12 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 99 Proof
- 12 Years
- Barrel #623
- Region: Kentucky

When I first started to drink more bourbon and less Scotch, Ezra B was one of those bottles that I always saw on the shelf, memorable for the bottle design, particularly the ribbon and waxy medal on the front. And yet, it was that design that turned me away from it. I felt that the hokey design might signify a lesser quality bourbon, apparently ignoring the fact that this is a 12-year Kentucky bourbon at a very reasonable price.

And then it went away, and I just didn't see it on shelves anyway, and I had some regret at never having given it a chance. Two years later, though, I managed to locate a bottle in a gas station liquor store, and I didn't pass up the opportunity. I missed out on not grabbing it way back when.

The nose is rich, primarily oak and sweet vanilla--a traditional and welcome scent. There's also a bit of cherry on the nose, but not the medicine-like cherry. Rather, it's got a bit of fresh, real cherry that adds to the delicious nose.

This bourbon is incredibly drinkable. It's full of sweet vanilla and caramel, reminding me in the first few pours of a caramel sundae. The oak that was on the nose doesn't come through on the palate. It was so prevalent on the nose I really thought that it would, but there's no dryness or bitterness to this bourbon at all.

It has a nice, oily texture that coats the mouth, and it leaves behind a nice cinnamon spice that seems to stick around forever. The sweet vanilla also lingers a bit on the finish, though not nearly as long as the cinnamon.

As much as I enjoyed the first few pours, this bottle only got better and better as I made my way through it. The caramel sundae comparison holds strong, if not becoming even more apt. It is a sweet and smooth bourbon, an excellent example that I'd pour for a novice drinker as a prime example of what I would want in a bourbon.

The last few pours might have been the best, as the cinnamon spice turned more into a cinnamon sugar flavor, the kind I used to put on toast with butter as a sweet snack when I was a kid. It also picked up some maple syrup notes that made this a very breakfast-y bourbon.

Overall, this is an absolutely delicious bourbon, not one to be passed up due to off-putting ribbon and medal draped around the bottle's neck.

Grade: A-

Monday, September 4, 2017

Whiskey Acres Distiling Co. Bourbon

VITALS:
- $42
- 87 Proof
- 1 Year
- Region: Illinois

DeKalb, Illinois is not exactly known for its rich history of bourbon distilling. Around me, anyway, it's known for Northern Illinois University, the closest college campus to go hunting for a kegger, and also for being surrounded by corn. On a recent trip to a small boutique in Geneva, Illinois, however, my wife came across Whiskey Acres Bourbon. Knowing I hadn't tried this one and that I'd at least want to give it a shot, she picked up a bottle for me.

Now, going in, I knew this was not going to be the next Pappy. First, I had never heard of it. Second, it's only a one-year old bourbon--hardly enough time for any bourbon to mature, no matter who is making it. So, while I more than appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into buying this whiskey, I wasn't exactly calling all my friends to come over to give it a try.

And it's a good thing I didn't. As expected, being such a young bourbon, it has both the smell and taste of over-ripe fruit, like apples that have been sitting on the counter for too long. I've noticed that this is a common flavor when a bourbon has not had the right amount of time in the barrel, and it's become a common flavor profile in bourbons bottled by new craft distilleries.

The flavor is rough. It has no sweetness to it whatsoever, but is rather tart and bitter. In addition to the spoiled fruit flavor, there's a distinct coffee note. Not a good coffee flavor, though. More like "gas station right off the highway in the middle of Tennessee" bad coffee (yes, I know, that's not exactly relatable, but the flavor clearly brought back a bad memory).

On a more positive note, the back end provided a nice cinnamon note that stuck around the back of my throat for a while. The texture of the bourbon was actually nice and oily, coating the mouth and throat well, and allowing for that cinnamon to linger. Unfortunately, some of the less-desirable flavors also lingered around.

In the end, this is a bourbon that clearly needs more time in the barrel to mature and interact with the wood and the sugars in the barrel. It's young and obviously so. The flavor and smell are both tough to get past, and I only drank this as a third pour for the night. Even then I did so with difficulty. In fact, my wife wouldn't even sit next to me while I drank it, she found the smell so offensive. I hope with time this bourbon improves, and after a few more years I'd be willing to try it again. Until then, though, this is a hard pass.

Grade: D-

Saturday, September 2, 2017

David Nicholson Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $30
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

So many times I've seen this bottle on the shelf and so many times I've passed it up. It's an unassuming bottle, short and squat, with no cartoon birds or profiles of bourbon pioneers on the label. It's got a name that doesn't resonate either--couldn't tell you who David Nicholson is. At a $30 price tag, though, it was worth at least giving a try, and I couldn't be happier that I did!

This is a sourced bourbon from Luxco, the same company that brings you Rebel Yell and Blood Oath. The name itself has ties to the Van Winkle family, and it was purchased by Luxco in 2000. I have not been able to determine (through admittedly only brief internet research) where this bourbon is sourced from.

All that aside, regardless of where it comes from, this is very good whiskey! The nose is heavy caramel with a light undertone of vanilla, the traditional bourbon notes we've all come to know and love. This one also has a light smokiness on the nose that I really enjoyed. It had some alcohol burn, but that seemed to evaporate pretty quickly, and this was one of those pours that I found myself frequently shoving under my nose to enjoy the aroma.

With my first pour, my initial impression was that this was a somewhat bland bourbon. It didn't hit me with much flavor and seemed a bit watered down. I make note of this only because, looking back now, it seems a bit odd and perhaps, somehow, an anomaly. I say that because every other pour thereafter was full of flavor and very delicious!

The watery texture remained. This was not a chewy, oily bourbon. It was, however, a sweet and flavorful bourbon. The heavy caramel from the nose dominates the palate as well. That light smokiness from the nose came through on the palate as well, and there was minimal burn.

The caramel itself reminded me of smooth, warm caramel. While the differences may be somewhat subtle, there is a difference in caramel flavors from the hard caramels, to the caramel found in Rolos to the warm caramel you'd top a sundae with. This is the latter.

Accompanying that sweet, warm caramel flavor, though were notes of milk chocolate and even hints of crisp, green apple. These flavors complemented that caramel and light smoke flavor so well that, even though I wanted to open and try other whiskeys currently sitting in my bar, I couldn't help but keep going back for pour after pour of this stuff.

At $30, this is absolutely a bourbon worth buying and trying, and I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this bourbon that I've glossed over so many times before.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Maker's Mark Private Select Binny's Beverage Depot #6 Kentucky Bourbon

VITALS:
- $80
- 112.1 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

Once again I am here touting just how good the Maker's Mark Private Selects are. As I've said in the past, while some are certainly better than others, I still have yet to find one that is not, at least, very good. This particular Private Select is no different. While it's not my favorite, not really having that flavor profile that first turned me on to these, this is still a very delicious bourbon!

As with all of the Private Selects, these barrels are not so much selected as they are created, by selecting the combination of staves that were then inserted into the barrel for some extra finishing and aging. This particular barrel breaks down as follows:

I'll be honest, the first three or so pours I ever had of any Maker's Mark Private Select all had a unique and delicious sweet chocolate note to them, and I've found myself chasing that profile ever since. So, seeing that this one had more of the French Mocha staves, I just couldn't help myself. What wasn't there, however, was that chocolate profile that I was seeking. Nonetheless, this was a very complex and flavorful whiskey that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The nose gave off a bit of ethanol at first, which was somewhat off-putting. However, once I got past that alcohol smell, I got an interesting combination of dark chocolate and walnut on the nose, giving it a decadent, but not sweet, nose.

On the palate I did get the chocolate notes, but it was more of a bitter chocolate flavor than the sweet chocolate I was hoping for. It was more of a cocoa powder flavor. That flavor did go well with a creamy, buttery flavor that also came through. It was kind of like an unsweetened breakfast pastry. There were also hints of orange that seemed to bounce in and out from time to time, an almost evasive flavor.  I also got a nutty flavor lingering in the background, though it didn't seem to be the walnut flavor I found on the nose. Rather, it was more of an unsalted peanut flavor.

The finish was primarily a light and smokey cinnamon flavor. It had a good amount of spice, along with a light smokiness that added to the complexity just a bit. Overall it has a nice, creamy texture that allowed the flavors to linger for quite a while after each sip.

The great texture and nice complexity made this an interesting and tasty pour, even if the flavors were somewhat all over the place. What remained consistent, however, was the lingering spice at the back end, which had me wanting another sip over and over again. While it didn't hit the mark as far as the flavor profile I was hoping for, this ended up being an excellent pour nonetheless.

Grade: B+

Sunday, August 20, 2017

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $35
- 100 Proof
- 2 Years
- Region: Indiana (bottled in Kentucky)

This is one of those whiskeys that I've seen pretty regularly on the shelves, but frequently passed it over for no reason in particular. For a long time I knew little about it, and I guess that was reason enough. As someone who is a fan of MGP ryes, however, having happened upon a list of Non-Distilling Producers that are bottling MGP's product and seeing James E. Pepper 1776 Rye on the list, I then figured, what do I have to lose?

It's only a two-year rye, so my expectations going in weren't great, regardless of where it came from. On the nose I got a LOT of alcohol. It's not a super-high proofer, so that was quite off-putting, and it was pretty difficult to get past.

Once I was able to get past that alcohol smell, though, I was able to notice some distinct cherry and vanilla on the nose. Unfortunately, though, that alcohol smell made it very hard to enjoy what should otherwise have been some very pleasant aromas.

On the palate it had some harsh and rough edges. The cherry and vanilla flavors were there, even at times reminding me of a cherry Coca-Cola. The cherry was more dominant on the palate than on the nose, and it brought a significant sweetness to it, kind of like maraschino cherries.

There was a light, peppery spice on the back end to compliment that sweet, syrupy cherry flavor, but the finish was short and unremarkable. Any flavors I found myself enjoying seemed to disappear almost immediately.

On later pours I got some further notes that made this an interesting pour. Orange peel came through, giving some (not sure the word I'm looking for here . . . character? substance?) to the bitterness that I didn't really like at first. It sort of gave that bitterness a reason for being there, a purpose, rather than just being bitter for bitterness' sake.

In the end, though, this is a young, rough rye. It's interesting at times, but those times were fleeting, and ultimately those rough edges never seemed to smooth out. In the end it was a somewhat one dimensional pour, lacking any robustness or complexity. While I really enjoyed the unique, cherry cola flavor, it just wasn't enough for me.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Binny's Private Select Barrel #4519 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- 10 Years
- Region: Kentucky

As I've said over and over again, the Knob Creek private selections, wherever they may be found, are one of the best deals out there. You're almost guaranteed to get a very good bottle of bourbon out of it, and sometimes you get something great. Either way, at $40.00 or less, at the very least you won't be stuck with buyer's remorse. Plus, no two barrels are alike, and I've really enjoyed just trying the different flavor profiles.

Binny's recently got a new batch of private selections in. Many people immediately went for the 13 1/2 year old, the oldest among their selections, but I was informed that Binny's main buyer, whoever he may be, liked this barrel the best. Perhaps I was fed a line, or perhaps it's true, but again, at $40, what's the risk? So I grabbed a bottle to find out.

The nose rich and heavy with the traditional vanilla and caramel notes. It has a mild alcohol burn, certainly less than would be expected from a high proofer. The nose is pungent, and it seems to forecast a heavy, rich and sweet flavored bourbon to follow.

On first sip, flavors aside, my primary thought was, "This is delicious!" Caramel is the foundation of this bourbon, providing a sweet, creamy flavor from beginning to end, with a nice cinnamon spice at the end. However, from front to back there were other flavors that seemed to come and go, not sticking around too long to offend the senses or to detract too much from that base-line caramel, but rather only long enough to make you appreciate those flavors while they're there, and love the caramel notes when they're not.

There was a anise flavor that I noticed in early pours. Again, though, it wasn't prevalent throughout, but just seemed to come and go, having me looking for it. It may seem weird, but this combination, with the heavy caramel and cinnamon finished reminded me of cinnamon roles.

On later pours, that anise flavor took on more of an amaretto flavor which, mixed with the caramel took on a very rich brown sugar syrup flavor. But, and possibly thanks to those amaretto and anise notes, this bourbon was never too sweet, and always had that tingly spice at the end. It also developed a light woody dryness to it towards the end that, again, kept it from being too sweet.

This bourbon was very rich, oily in texture and creamy in character. It had a lot going on, with different flavors coming in to play around with the caramel, but never upstaging it. Whether or not this was truly the barrel that Binny's buyer liked best, I don't know, but I can certainly see why it would be his favorite. This was a great pour, and I already miss it!

Grade: A-

Friday, August 11, 2017

Valentine Distilling Co. Mayor Pingree 9 Year Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $80
- 117.2 Proof
- 9 Years
- Region: Indiana (bottled in Michigan)

This is another one of those bottles that my wife randomly surprised me with following a recent success at work. As I've mentioned in the past, she enjoys bringing home bottles that I haven't had before. She knows it makes me happy!

It's worth noting right off the top that this whiskey, bottled by Valentine Distilling Co. in Detroit and named after its former mayor in the late 1800's, Mayor Hazen Pingree, is an MGP-sourced bourbon. It is a well-aged MGP bourbon, though, and as a general rule, it's going to be decent. Whether it's worth the $80 price tag is always a question with these NDPs, though.

On the nose I get a lot of soft caramel and brown sugar. It smells sweet, and I also get a lot of corn, which is a bit surprising from an MGP bourbon. It has minimal burn on the nose and promises to be a tasty pour.

On the palate I get a lot of caramel and just a light amount of cinnamon. Up front it does not come across as very complex. It's easy to drink but not exactly dynamic or interesting.

However, on the finish it develops some appreciable complexity. The sweet caramel (which is clearly the most prominent takeaway flavor from this bourbon) continues from beginning to end, serving as the foundation upon which all the other flavors are added. However, on the finish (much unlike the front end) I get a light nuttiness, but not the more bitter walnut kind. Rather, it's kind of a cashew nuttiness, a sweeter kind that lingers for a bit. I also got a lot of warm amaretto notes that seem to stick around at the back of my throat forever.

After the bottle being opened for a few weeks, the bourbon seemed to open up quite a bit. Despite being a caramel-bomb from the beginning, it somehow managed to get sweeter and added some light baking spices towards the back end.

This bourbon really turned into a delicious and sweet (but not too sweet) bourbon. Despite the first few pours being somewhat mundane, towards the middle and end of this bottle, I found myself wanting it more and more, and by the end I was disappointed that it was gone. At first the $80 price tag seemed like a complete bust, but at least toward the end it was palatable (the price, that is--the bourbon was very good!).

Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Jefferson's Chef's Collaboration Blended Straight Whiskey

VITALS
- $40
- 90 Proof
- 2 Years
- Batch No. 12
- Region: Kentucky

This is one of those whiskeys that I've wanted to try for quite some time, but I saw it so frequently on the shelves that I seemed to always have something else I wanted to try first, not worrying that this would become difficult to find. And then it did, at least for a while. There was a dry spell where I actively looked for the Jefferson's Chef's Collaboration and just couldn't find it. Eventually, though, it came back to the shelves and appears to have a regular place once again. This time I didn't take the chance and finally grabbed a bottle.

Chef's Collaboration is, as it's name would suggest, a collaboration between Jefferson's and world-famous chef Edward Lee of the 610 Magnolia and Milkwood restaurants in Louisville. It's not a bourbon, however, but rather a blended whiskey, consisting of a blend of bourbon and rye, much like High West's Bourye, Wild Turkey's Forgiven or Smooth Ambler's Contradiction. Some of these blended bourbons and ryes have seen success, and some haven't, but in general I'd heard good things about Chef Lee's design, and I couldn't wait to try it for myself.

The first thing that I noticed is its color. I rarely comment on color, as it really seems to have no bearing on anything, but this was noticeably lighter than the other whiskeys sitting next to it on my shelf. I can't say that it's attributable to one thing or another, just merely an observation.

The nose is sweet and spicy. I get a lot of vanilla and caramel with the cinnamon spice you'd expect from the rye. In that sense it had me expecting something traditional and bold, despite its lighter color.

On the first pour, it came across as very smooth and certainly on the sweeter side. I got distinct molasses flavors, and even a hint of peach. It also had a long, spicy cinnamon finish that really complimented that peach note. The texture is a bit on the watery side, yet the finish was nonetheless long and flavorful.

Interestingly, I also got a mintiness in the finish, which created a bit of a strange balance with the spicy cinnamon notes. Long after each sip I got a sort of cooling in the throat, which was particularly noticeable once the spice subsided.

Even towards the end of the bottle, after being open for a while, that minty sensation remained. In fact, the flavor profile of this whiskey didn't really change at all over time. It's the most consistent bottle in that respect that I've had in a long time. The only really noticeable change was that I got a slight wood note in the last few pours. Nothing tannic or dry about it, just a slight woody flavor to it.

Although this is not an overly complex whiskey, it is nonetheless an interesting and flavorful one. The transition in flavors from front to back is what really sticks out. It's very sweet up front, spicy at the back end, and then it leaves you with a cool minty sensation once the flavors have kind of evaporated. It's a solid pour, and is probably offered at the right price. It's not spectacular, but it is full of flavor and very easy to drink.

Grade: B

Monday, July 24, 2017

Four Roses Single Barrel Binny's Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OESK

VITALS:
- $60
- 107.8 Proof
- 9 years, 8 months
- Region: Kentucky

Let me start out by saying that the Four Roses Single Barrel private selections will, after I've had a chance to get through all ten recipes, or perhaps even before then, be one of those bourbons that I will grab off the shelf every time I see it. Each private selection that I've tried has been nothing short of very good, and a few have been great.

This recipe, OESK, is my eighth of the ten different recipes, and it held true to the above premise. Although I might not describe this one as "great," it is nonetheless very good, and far from a disappointment or giving me buyer's remorse.

On the nose there was surprisingly no burn at all. Rather, it was full of the familiar scents of cinnamon and a whole bunch of vanilla. It even had a bit of a buttery note on the nose that made me never want to stop sniffing the stuff.

On the first few pours, there was a light cinnamon spice, and the wood tones were stronger than I'm used to getting in Four Roses bourbons. What set it apart even more, however, was the very distinct dark chocolate flavor. Between the wood and the dark chocolate flavors, there wasn't much sweetness up front.

Over time, however, that changed. It did sweeten up pretty significantly, yet it still maintained that cinnamon spice. Rather than wood tones, it took on more of an almond flavor and lost some of the edge it initially had. It really smoothed out and had a sort of red hots mixed with amaretto thing going.

The dark chocolate tones stuck around throughout, and I got an added peanut butter flavor in the latter half of the bottle that was subtle, but once I noticed it, I couldn't not notice it, if that makes sense.

Needless to day, this bottle had quite a bit going for it. While I wouldn't say the flavors blended perfectly together, they were pleasant, unique and nonetheless very tasty. It didn't change in profile as much as I thought it would, but it did improve over time, and the flavors that developed were . . . fun? Yeah, I'll go with fun.

Grade: B+

Monday, July 17, 2017

Angel's Envy 2016 Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $180
- 124.6 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I've been on the lookout for ever since I tried the regular Angel's Envy Bourbon, but I just never seemed to come across a bottle. The 2016 version, however, was more than available, albeit due in large part to the much higher price tag. Nonetheless, I parted ways with some hard-earned money for a chance to finally enjoy what I'd been after for years.

Of course, it required a special occasion before I popped the cork, so my neighbor, the one who recently moved away, and I enjoyed this bottle on the last day he was in town . . . and enjoy it we did. It was one of those mornings where I looked at the bottle, with only a few ounces remaining, and immediately realized why I felt the way I did.

What I enjoyed, at least those first couple pours and then the last few remnants months later, though, I REALLY enjoyed! This release is unique in that it's unfiltered. Accordingly, you can actually see the char from the barrels floating around in the bottle, even some relatively decent-sized chunks. I never noticed any of the char, however, as I drank it.

Rather, what I noticed is that this is an amped up and better version of Angel's Envy! It has a pungent nose, full of plum and cherry layered on top of sweet vanilla. There's also the slight scent of cloves on the nose. Of course, the expected port and alcohol burn are there, but they, by no means, detract from the complex and delicious nose that this bourbon otherwise offers.

On the palate I immediately notice the flavor of candied fruits, like dried and sweetened plum and cherry mixed with brown sugar. There's also a heavy dose of vanilla behind the dark fruits that really makes this a rich and delicious dessert-like pour!

It's very oily in texture and has surprisingly little burn. Don't get me wrong, the proof is high and this bourbon makes you notice, but rather than ethanol flavors taking over, it just has a nice, long, warm hug, even from the smallest sip. It's easy to drink and immediately coats the mouth with sweet, fruity flavors, but then leaves behind a cinnamon flavor in the back of the throat that seemingly never goes away.

The last pour from the bottle (which I decided to enjoy while I watched the season premier of Game of Thrones) was almost as if it were a slightly condensed version, or a reduction. It seemed to have thickened and was almost sticky and sweet. It almost reminded me of some of George R.R. Martin's descriptions of some of the wines in his books.  However, it never came across too sweet, perhaps due to the heavy amounts of vanilla and long, warming cinnamon spice that followed. 

I wish I didn't have to pay the price I did for this bottle. However, I was glad to have gotten to enjoy it, as I found this to be fantastic. As I would expect it to be, it was an amped up, better version of a product I already enjoy, and it met all expectations I might have had.

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Journeyman Distillery Kissing Cousins Whiskey

VITALS:
- $35
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 5
- Region: Michigan

Among the various whiskey and bourbon related Podcasts I've listened to over the years is one called, simply, the Bourbon Show. One of the hosts, Evan Haskill, is from Michigan, near Journeyman Distillery, and early on in the show's series he began touting just how amazing this product was. Of course, hearing him speak so highly of a product that I could never seem to find on the shelves only made me want it more. So when I stumbled across a bottle at Binny's, not even looking for bourbon, I made sure to snatch one up.

Kissing Cousins gets its name from the fact that it's a collaboration with Wyncroft Winery, placing Journeyman's Featherbone Bourbon into barrels that formerly held Cabernet Sauvignon. As one who is a fan of wine barrel-finished whiskeys, I was more than happy to give this a go, despite it only coming in a 375 ml bottle.

On the nose the wine notes are heavy up front, carrying significant plumb and dark cherry notes. Those are offset a touch by some citrus-y orange notes as well. It's very soft and fruity, seemingly layered over a distinct caramel note.

After enjoying that nose, the first taste came across much less sweet than I expected, which was not necessarily a bad thing. I got the traditional vanilla notes up front, but they seemed fleeting, as they were quickly overpowered by the strong flavor from the Cabernet Sauvignon, which lingered long after the vanilla notes dissipated. There is also a bit of amaretto flavor and the slightest hint of sour or over-ripe fruit, indicative of young bourbon being used.

The finish is primarily dark chocolate and cherry, lingering for a good amount of time after each swallow. There is almost no spice to speak of with this whiskey, which was a touch disappointing. The traditional bourbon notes just don't seem to ever show up either. Had the traditional vanilla or toffee notes been more prevalent, I might have found this whiskey much more enjoyable.

I guess ultimately it tastes like what it is, a young bourbon with a little too much wine influence for my tastes. I tried letting it sit for a bit, hoping it might open up some and some of the other flavors might come through, but that was not the case.  Nor did it seem to smooth out, almost developing even rougher edges over time than what it started with.

I was glad to finally try this one, but it just did not live up to Mr. Haskill's hype.

Grade: C+

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $15
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

Sometimes I pick up a bottle purely out of curiosity. My wife made a Trader Joe's run the other day, and when she asked me if I wanted anything, I half-jokingly said, "Get me some Trader Joe's bourbon!"  To her credit, she looked for it, and for only $15.00, she couldn't find any reason not to grab a bottle.

The label doesn't tell you much about what's inside the bottle. There's no age statement, and it only states that it was distilled by Bourbon Square Distilling Company in Louisville. Some quick Googling tells me, however, that it's distilled by Buffalo Trace at the Barton 1792 distillery. Accordingly, I went in expecting Ten High, or something of that caliber.

I will say, while this is not a bourbon I'd recommend to neighbors and friends, nor is it likely something I'll keep stocked in my home bar, it wasn't that bad.

The nose is sweet, heavy on the brown sugar. However, it's complemented by baking spices, rounding out a nice, dessert-like scent. It does carry some alcohol on the nose, telling me it's not going to be a "smooth" pour, but that was really to be expected.

The bourbon is watery in texture, but still provides a lot of that brown sugar that I found on the nose. It's a sweet bourbon with some rough edges and bitterness, but other flavors were able to come through as well. It came across as a bit nutty, like a walnut flavor, again, going decently with the brown sugar.

Interestingly, I also noticed light smokiness, which made this one stand out from other bourbons in this price range. That smokey, nutty and sweet combination could be decent if aged longer. In the end, though, it's a younger bourbon, certainly not aged much more than 4 years, and the watery texture and alcohol flavor puts this bourbon right where it belongs--among all the other bottom shelf bourbons that are best-suited to be mixed with Coke.

As stated above, I won't be stocking my bar with Trader Joe's Bourbon any time soon, but it was fun to try, especially at a price where there's pretty much no risk. In the end, it all comes down to . . . it wasn't that bad.

Grade: C+

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch

VITALS:
- $60
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Islay, Scotland

It's been a while since I've posted. It's not due to a lack of drinking whisky, however. I recently moved, so for a while there my whiskey and my laptop were packed away. During that time, however, I've enjoyed a few bottles, down to the last couple pours, with the intention of finishing them once I got into my new house, and getting the reviews up here. This is the first I finished off once we settled in, and this picture was actually taken in my new basement bar!

This was a sort of going away gift from my whiskey buddy who recently moved away. I'm not sure if it was intended as a gift or if it was just a matter of he couldn't pack it so he gave it to me. Either way, the outcome is the same and I got to enjoy a nice, peaty bottle of Islay Scotch!

The bottle itself advertises this as a "Heavily Peated" Scotch, and with a simple pop of the cork it's obvious that that is not mere puffery! One whiff of this stuff and my first thought was, "Holy smoke bomb!" It's like I stuck my nose into the smoldering remains of a campfire. It was really tough to get past the smoke to find other notes, but with a little patience and persistence, I was also able to pick up some graham cracker and light honey. The sweetness is there, it's just hidden.

The smoke, however, actually seemed stronger on the nose than it did on the palate.  Don't get me wrong, this is still a very smoky whisky, but the other flavors are able to permeate through as well, and it is a decent blend of smoky and sweet.

Beyond the peat there is a smooth butterscotch flavor that mixes well with cereal notes (perhaps that graham cracker I noticed on the nose) as well as hints of dark fruits. It reminded me of raisin bran, oddly enough. It's tasty and complex, though it does come off as a bit rough around the edges.

The peat smoke is still difficult to get past, and that smokiness lingers in your mouth forever, kind of like that taste you have the morning after enjoying a nice cigar the night before. It left an odd, almost metallic taste at the back of my throat as well that I had a hard time getting past. Also, frequently after a bottle has been open for a bit, the whisky inside tends to smooth out a bit. Not so with this one, as the rough edges seemed to only get more prominent, focusing more on the peat and the alcohol than the other, tasty but hidden flavors.

Even after a few pours, I couldn't be certain whether I liked this or not. I liked it at first, enjoying the butterscotch and graham cracker flavors mixed with the smoke, like a nice Summer campfire. Then a couple pours later I would wonder what I ever saw in this stuff. Yet, on my last pour, there I was, enjoying it all over again. Perhaps it was simply my mood, or perhaps just whatever I had just eaten was changing my palate, but I could never really put my thumb on whether or not I liked it.

Grade: B-

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 119.2 Proof
- NAS

I've been wanting to try Bulleit Barrel Strength since it came out, but just had never seen it in my area. So, when I made a recent trip to Louisville I made it a point to grab a bottle to bring back with me (and actually to share with my fledgling whiskey club which I'm not allowed to talk about). Of course, now that I brought a bottle back, I'm seeing it on the shelves all over the Chicagoland area. But, that fear of missing out (or "FOMO") made certain that I got a bottle sooner than later, at least.

The nose is spicy, much like the regular Bulleit Bourbon. It's not the traditional rye spice, but rather a sweetened spice, an interesting combination of caramel and black pepper. It also had a light woodiness to it, telling me this is older than standard Bulleit Bourbon, though a quick Google search of other reviews indicates it's a blend of 5-8 year bourbons.

On the palate it's a lot of cinnamon spice, telling me that it's a rye-heavy mashbill. That spice is balanced very well with the traditional bourbon notes of toffee and vanilla, however, along with some light chocolate notes. It made me think of a cinnamon Heath Bar, if only such a thing existed! Up front this bourbon really is delicious.

On the finish it left a bit to be desired, however. With so many barrel strength bourbons, they tend to have a more viscous texture, leaving an almost oily residue that causes the flavor to linger for a much longer time. Not the case wit this one. It's on the watery end in texture, and it had a very short, surprisingly short, finish to it. As soon as I swallowed that was it, no lingering flavors whatsoever.

At 119.2 proof, the alcohol is present. However, it does fade fast and, as indicated, the flavor comes through very well up front. In addition to the cinnamon and toffee notes that predominate, a light woodiness as well as a light smoke flavor thrown in somewhere in the middle. While it is bold in flavor, at least on the front end, I wouldn't call it complex.

It's a very tasty bourbon, and a good buy for the price. It hits all the right notes to make it one of my favorites, at least in flavor. It's a nice mix of cinnamon spice with the vanilla and toffee. The watery texture and notably short finish, however, were difficult for me to get past. I seemed to linger on that flaw, much like I wished this bourbon would linger on my tongue a bit more. I wanted to love this bourbon at first sip, but that immediate potential was never going to be realized.

Grade: B

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New Riff Distilling O.K.I. Reserve 10 Year Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 97.75 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch No. 20

I heard an interview with one of the owners of New Riff out of Newport, Kentucky, and, although I can't remember exactly who it was that was interviewed, I recalled appreciating the fact that they were very open about their distillery, their operations, and their business plan. In particular, she discussed their release of O.K.I., a bourbon they were sourcing and bottling as a means of keeping hte business afloat while their own distillate comes to maturation.

O.K.I. is a 10  year bourbon sourced from MGP in Indiana. New Riff never looked to hide that fact, even incorporating that fact as part of the brand (O.K.I. stands for Oklahoma, Kentucky and Indiana). Based upon that fact, and the fact that I've generally enjoyed the longer-aged products coming from MGP, I wanted to give this a try. Unfortunately, I can't get it in Illinois, so I had to wait a few months until my next trip to Louisville, but even though I was on a budget, this was the bottle I knew I was coming home with on that trip.

The nose is soft and full of vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco, that kind of sweet smell you get when you pass one of those specialty tobacco stores and the scent just wafts out the front door. It also had a kind of floral note to it, like lilac bushes, though it wasn't as strong as those flowers can be.

In flavor it struck me as very traditional, heavy on the vanilla and toffee. Towards the end it had a slight cinnamon spice as well as a light smoke on the finish. It was very bold and rich, full of flavor from beginning to end. The finish was long and the toffee flavor just seemed to linger forever, as though I let a Heath bar just sit and melt in my mouth.

Over time it seemed to sweet up and develop even more complexity. In addition to the sweet vanilla and toffee flavors, a more savory cocoa note came through, that played very well with the heavy vanilla. Perhaps it was those two flavors together or something completely new, but it also seemed to add in a peanut flavor. The cinnamon spice remained but was joined towards the end by a welcome orange-citrus note, just enough to make it interesting.

Although I wanted to savor this bottle, I found myself going back to it over and over again because I enjoyed it so much. I delayed a bit in opening it after I bought it, but once it was open, I couldn't help but make my way through this bottle relatively quickly. I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this bourbon, and I'm surprised it hasn't received more attention!

Grade: A

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Balvenie Doublewood 17 Year Single Malt Scotch

VITALS:
- $160
- 86 Proof
- 17 Years

This is one of those bottles that, though inviting it may be, is not one that I had ever really envisioned buying myself. Luckily for me, however, I was gifted one, so I got to give the Balvenie Doublewood 17 Year a go.

It's apparently called "Doublewood" due to its having spent time in two different casks.  It first spent "many years" in traditional whisky casks and is then matured in oak sherry casks. I'm not really sure the amount of time it spent in either type of barrel, though.

The nose is heavy on the sherry influence. It's very fruity in aroma, almost like a sangria, where you get the mix of red wine with fresh orange and apple. However, that aroma is complemented by sweet tobacco leave and vanilla, making for a very complex and very intriguing nose.

As would be expected, on the palate the whisky is smooth as silk--almost TOO easy to drink, as each glass seemed to go down very easily. The traditional maltiness is there, blended nicely with vanilla and walnut, but it quickly gives way to the prominent fruit notes. Though it didn't taste like the sangria I got from the nose, it was almost a mix of raisin and strawberry (perhaps that's hard to imagine, but that's what struck me as I drank this).

There's a mile spice that lingers, along with the vanilla and dark fruit flavors, for a bit on the finish, but unfortunately that's as long as it stayed--only for a bit.  The finish, while sweet and lightly spice and very enjoyable, was also very short. Perhaps this is due to the more watery texture of this whisky, something I didn't necessarily expect given its age.

Interestingly, about halfway through the bottle, the flavors seemed to blend a bit into more of a dark chocolate flavor, which went very well with that strawberry and raisin combo I mentioned. I really enjoyed this slight metamorphosis, and what's more, that chocolate note seemed to linger longer than the other flavors, seeming to last even after the other flavors had dissipated.

All in all, there was a lot going on in this whisky, and, as far as flavor goes, it was all incredible. It had fruity notes balanced well with chocolate and vanilla notes, balanced well with a slight spiciness. My only knock is the low proof and watery texture, but that's a mild complaint considering the wonderful blend of flavor in this bottle.

Grade: A-

Monday, May 29, 2017

Michter's 10 Year Single Barrel Straight Rye (2016)

VITALS:
- $110
- 10 Yrs.
- Barrel No. 16A131

The Michter's 10 Year Rye is one of those highly sought after "chase" whiskeys. I've long since resigned myself to being nothing more than an opportunistic bourbon hunter, grabbing those rarities when the chance presents itself, but not going out of my way to track them down. This was one, however, that I would have been happy to chase. I love Michter's in general, I love their ryes, and I'm a big fan of aged ryes. This one seemed to me like it'd be right up my alley, and I wanted one!

I did not pay secondary for mine, nor did I even pay the retail price of $110 or so. I actually won this on a whim, having entered into a raffle believing going in that I wasn't going to win it. But, for $11/spot, I figured the $22 I spent for the chance would suffice as my "chase." So when my number came up the winner, I couldn't have been more stoked, nabbing this bottle for a fraction of the retail cost, let alone the secondary which is close to double that amount!

Upon arrival, I popped it open and was hit with a caramel heavy nose, sweet but with a light amount of that rye spice on top. I also got come scent of cloves coming off it as well. It smelled very good, but along the sweeter, fruitier lines, kind of like Baby Saz.

On my first sip I couldn't help but notice how light in texture this rye is. It's soft, even a bit watery. Yet it still had plenty of flavor and a decently long finish. While it has the traditional vanilla flavor with the cinnamon spice finish that you usually get in a rye, it also had a nice orange peel tang to it.

It also had a light peppery and brown sugar finish that seemed to stick around for quite some time despite the watery texture. That orange peel, brown sugar and cinnamon spice really made me feel like I was drinking an Old Fashioned poured right out of a bottle. It was very enjoyable in that sense, as I'm a big fan of Old Fashioned's.

All that being said, the price on this bottle, bot retail and secondary, isn't really justified. There are better, more complex and more interesting ryes on the market for half the cost or less (see Baby Saz, Pikesville and Willett to name a few). While I can't be disappointed considering what I paid, if I'm reviewing this from the perspective of one who paid full price, this rye is a bit of a let down considering the price and the high demand for this product. The watery texture and lack of complexity left me feeling that while this was very good, it just wasn't . . . special.

Grade: B/B+

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $150
- 86.8 Proof
- 17 Years

Wild Turkey Master's Keep has been sitting on shelves around here (Chicago area) for quite some time. A lot of that certainly has to do with the cost. I'm sure some of it has to do with the low proof of this premium bourbon, clocking in at a mere 86.8 proof, despite being cask strength. I would also imagine that some of it is due to the lackluster reviews this bourbon has received. In any event, thanks to some Binny's gift cards, I decided to splurge and give this a try.

Quite frankly, bad reviews aside (though I did come across some very positive reviews as well), I was most intrigued by the fact that this bourbon was not cut down with water to arrive at this low proof. It had me hoping that it would be as full of flavor as other cask strength bottlings, but with minimal burn. This is one of the first projects of Eddie Russel, son of the great Jimmy Russel and relatively new master distiller at Wild Turkey. He attributes the low proof to the fact that this bourbon was aged in stone warehouses, so in a cooler and damper environment, resulting in a low-proof product coming out of the barrel. If nothing else, I figured it'd be unique.

The nose is very pungent and enjoyable. It's full of caramel and vanilla, with a little bit of cinnamon spice. With the age, I expected to get a lot of wood, but that simply wasn't there. Interestingly, over time the nose developed a rich, fruity quality, kind of an apricot flavor that reminded me of brandy.

On the palate the first thing I noticed was that there was absolutely no burn and nothing but flavor. I also immediately recognized that Wild Turkey profile that so many people either love it or don't. However, this has less spice than Wild Turkey 101 or Rare Breed. Despite it not being present in the nose, the wood comes forward, though in a softer, subtler manner. It is more of flavor only and doesn't make the bourbon seem dry. It's like it got the wood flavor but without the tannins.  

The finish is sweet and long, like a nice blend of amaretto and cloves. The cinnamon spice I expected on the palate finally comes through at the end as well, and it seems to contribute to that nice, warm Kentucky hug. I never found the fruity profile in the flavor that I was getting off the nose. Had it been there I may have enjoyed this much more, as I really enjoyed it on the nose.

This is a very easy bourbon to drink, and, as mentioned above, not nearly as dry as other 15+ year bourbons I've had. It's rich and full of flavor. However, there was something about this bottle that turned me off. I kept getting a weird, musty flavor, like that taste in your mouth when you walk into a damp basement. At first I thought I just got it stuck in my head after reading about the "damp environment" in which the barrels were aged, but I kept noticing it every time I went back to this bottle. It was kind of weird, and, quite frankly, for the price, weird is not the conclusion I was going for.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Maker's Mark Whisky Magazine & Binny's Private Select Kentucky Bourbon

VITALS:
- $70
- 110.2 Proof
- NAS

This is the second Maker's Mark Private Select that I've picked up. I loved the first bottle I tried, just as I have absolutely loved every other pour that I've had in bars. The Maker's Mark Private Selects are bottles that, when I see them on the shelves, I just grab them without question. Much like the Four Roses private selections, I feel like I'm guaranteed, at the least, a very good pour.

This particular bottling was no different. For those not in the know, the Private Select program allows a purchaser to create a custom recipe using a combination of ten different oak finishing staves of different types, and each stave adds different character and flavor. In the past the ones I've had were heavy on the Roasted French Mocha and the Toasted French Spice. This one is not so much:

On the nose I smelled a lot of wood and spice, like a peppery spice that tickled the nostrils. Though it lacked those traditional vanilla and caramel notes, as well as the chocolate notes that I've found in previous Private Selects, it did have an interesting buttery note to it as well. Not sure it played really well with the peppery spice, but it was certainly different and unique.

The palate very much matched the nose as well. Up front I was hit with the peppery wood notes. Though a bit dry in that sense, it was still complex and full of flavor, and it didn't strike me as an offensive dry-ness in any sense. Rather, it was a very full-bodied bourbon with an incredibly long, cinnamon finish that kept me salivating long after each swallow.

Towards the end of the bottle, it began to sweeten up a bit. Along with the pepper and long cinnamon finish, the traditional caramel flavor began to take center stage, and all the flavors were not complemented by an orange peel flavor that seemed to blend all the flavors together into one delicious flavor profile. While I enjoyed it from the start, by the end I found myself eager for the nex pour and couldn't get enough of it.

Though I didn't LOVE this one quite like I've loved other private selects, it was still a very good whiskey, and well-worth the price. It's still a complex, bold and spicy whiskey which, if I weren't comparing it to other Private Selects that I've had, would certainly be considered a top-tier pour. I did learn, however, that I'm apparently partial to the flavor profiles provided by the French Mocha and French Spice staves, and, if given options, I can look for that particular profile going forward (though I'll still probably just continue to grab them regardless of the recipe).

Grade: A-